Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Seaman cleared of yacht killings

Michael Hubble
Michael Hubble denied causing death through negligence

A car ferry officer has been cleared of the manslaughter of three crewmen who died when their boat sank in the English Channel.

Michael Hubble, 62, was accused of "turning a blind eye" when the P&O ferry, Pride of Bilbao, was involved in a close encounter with a yacht.

James Meaby, Rupert Saunders and Jason Downer drowned when the Ouzo was lost off the Isle of Wight last year.

Mr Hubble, of Kent, the officer of the watch of the ferry, denied the charges.

The jury at Winchester Crown Court is still considering separate charges under the Merchant Shipping Act of engaging in conduct as a seaman that was likely to cause death or serious injury.

The sailors died when their yacht the Ouzo sank off the Isle of Wight in the early hours of 21 August last year.

Mr Hubble, from Capel-le-Ferne, Folkestone, was officer of the watch in charge of the car ferry when the 37,500-tonne ship was allegedly involved in the sinking.

During the six-week trial, the jury heard that the three men, who were school and university friends, left Bembridge on the Isle of Wight on the evening tide of 20 August en route to Devon to take part in the Dartmouth regatta.

Experienced sailor Mr Saunders, 36, from Tooting, south London, was the owner and skipper of the Ouzo, which was more than 20 years old but well-maintained and equipped.

Pride of Bilbao in Portsmouth

Mr Meaby, 36, also from Tooting, and Mr Downer, 35, from Kent, were also experienced sailors.

All three men were found dead wearing inflated lifejackets.

Mr Meaby stayed alive in the water for 12 hours and the other two men three hours, before they either drowned or succumbed to hypothermia, the court was told.

Mr Hubble maintained throughout the trial that he had a close-quarters incident with a yacht that was not the Ouzo.

In the witness box he said he was "perfectly happy" that his vessel had missed a yacht and that he had no reason to call the captain.

The jury was also told that experts from South Tyneside College calculated that the Ouzo was close to a 3,000-ton coastal tanker called Crescent Beaune and not the Pride of Bilbao at 0140 BST on 21 August.

The captain of the tanker, Alaistair Crichton, told the jury he had broken the law when he had only a second officer and not another lookout on his bridge that evening.


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